Your body consists of over 600 muscles. However, as bodybuilders, we put almost all of our focus on less than 20, including the biceps, triceps, pecs, lats, quads, and delts.
This makes a lot of sense because the muscles we train tend to be the biggest and most prominent. However, small muscles matter too, even those that are not as visible. While these muscles won’t have much of a direct impact on your physique, they’re still important for lowering your risk of injury and enhancing performance so you can get better results from your workouts.
That’s not to say you’ve got to start doing exercises that specifically target your occipitofrontalis or your rectus capitis lateralis. However, it is worth paying a little more attention to a few smaller muscles like teres major and teres minor.
In this article, we’re going to explain what these muscles do and how best to train them. The good news is that you are probably already doing plenty of teres major and teres minor exercises, as they get a workout whenever you train your back.
Teres Major and Teres Minor Anatomy
Before we reveal the best teres major and teres minor exercises, let’s take a quick look at what these small but essential muscles actually do.
Teres major is a thick muscle that runs from the lateral edge of your scapula or shoulder blade to your humerus or upper arm bone. It works with your lats and is responsible for the following joint actions:
- Shoulder adduction
- Shoulder extension
- Shoulder medial rotation
- Stabilization of the shoulder joint
Teres minor is one of the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. The other muscles in the rotator cuff are supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis. Teres minor is located above the teres major and is a little thinner. It runs from the lateral border of the scapula to the upper humerus.
The functions of the teres major are:
- Shoulder adduction
- Shoulder external rotation
- Stabilization of the shoulder joint
Training teres major and teres minor will enhance shoulder joint stability, which could improve your performance of all major upper body exercises while reducing your risk of shoulder pain. They also contribute to the shape of your upper back, which is why some bodybuilders refer to the teres major and teres minor as your “mini lats.”
12 Teres Major & Teres Minor Exercises:
Now you know where the teres major and teres minor are and what they do, let’s take a look at the 12 best exercises for strengthening them.
1. Straight Arm Pulldown
Most upper back exercises are compound in nature. That means they involve your biceps as well as your lats. This one’s a little different, as it’s one of just a few lat isolation exercises. As well as training your lats, straight arm pulldowns provide your teres major and teres minor with a good workout.
Learn how to do straight arm pulldowns in our detailed guide.
2. Inverted Row
No gym? No problem! You can also train your teres major and teres minor with bodyweight exercises. Inverted rows, also known as Australian pull-ups, and a great home and garage gym exercise that you can do using a barbell in a low squat rack, using a strong broomstick between two chairs, or a suspension trainer. Make this exercise harder or easier by raising or lowering your feet.
Find out more about this useful exercise here.
3. Lat Pulldown
As you’d expect for muscles that are sometimes known as your mini-lats, teres major and minor play a big part in lat pulldowns. It really doesn’t matter which lat pulldown variation you do; they’re all good for developing your teres major and minor.
Your choices include:
- Wide overhand grip
- Narrow underhand grip
- Narrow neutral grip
- Medium parallel grip
- Lever pulldown
- One-arm lat pulldown
4. Pull-up and Chin-up
Like pulldowns, pull-ups and chin-ups also provide your teres major and teres minor with a great workout, albeit one that’s considerably more intense. Pull-ups are done using an overhand grip, while chin-ups are done with an underhand grip. Both are effective, so try each one to see which one you prefer. Most people find chin-ups slightly easier simply because the biceps are in a more biomechanically efficient position.
Read all about pull-ups and chin-ups in this guide.
5. Single-arm Dumbbell Row and Kroc Row
Single-arm rows allow you to train one side of your body at a time, which is an excellent way to ensure both sides are developed equally. They work your lats, biceps, middle traps, rhomboids, and, of course, those all-important teres major and minor muscles.
6. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
So far, all of our teres major and teres minor exercises have also involved the lats. You’ll undoubtedly be glad to hear that there are other exercises you can use that don’t mean more lat training. Dumbbell reverse flyes are a posterior deltoid exercise that also gives your teres major and minor a good workout.
You can do this exercise face-down on an inclined bench, standing and leaning over, or sitting on the edge of a bench with your chest on your legs. It can also be done using a cable machine, like a reverse cable crossover.
Check out our guide to dumbbell reverse flyes here.
7. Band Pull-Apart
Band pull-aparts are one of the best exercises you can do for your posture and shoulder health. They’re the perfect antidote for all those push-ups and bench presses you do! Because all you need to do this exercise is a resistance band, they’re all but excuse-free, and almost every lifter should do this exercise regularly and consistently. Oh, and by the way, it’s also a very effective teres major and teres minor exercise!
Learn all about band pull-aparts here.
8. Seated Cable Row
Seated cable rows are another lat exercise that’ll soon hammer your teres major and teres minor into shape. The main advantage of this exercise over things like bent-over rows is that there is less stress on your lower back. Also, because it’s a machine exercise, you can do things like drop sets and myo-reps to crank up the training intensity to the max. You can do seated cable rows using a wide grip, a medium grip, a narrow grip, and a neutral grip as preferred.
Read more about seated cable rows here.
9. Bent Over Rows
Bent-over rows are one of the best back-builders around, and that includes your teres major and minor. On the downside, they can be a little hard on your lumbar spine, especially if you allow your lower back to round. Take care not to go too heavy too soon with this exercise, or you could find the risks outweigh any potential benefits.
Learn how to do bent-over rows the right way here.
9. T-bar Row
T-bar rows are a popular lat exercise that also works your biceps, mid-traps, rhomboids, and teres major and minor. Compared to bent-over rows, there is a little less stress on your lower back, making it easier to avoid rounding your lumbar spine. That doesn’t mean T-bar rows are 100% safe, but they’re a good option if you find that barbell bent-over rows bother your back.
Learn all about T-bar rows in our detailed guide.
10. Pendlay Row
Also known as the dead-stop row, Pendlay rows are named after weightlifting and powerlifting coach Glen Pendlay. This exercise involves doing bent-over rows while pausing with the weight on the floor between reps. This takes the pressure off your lower back and also gives your grip a brief rest. It’s a great exercise for heavy weights and low reps and will provide your lats, teres major, and teres minor with a great workout.
Find out how to do Pendlay rows in this article.
11. Yates Row
Named after six-time Mr. Olympia winner Dorian “The Shadow” Yates, like all rowing exercises, the Yates row involves all of your major back muscles, as well as your teres major and teres minor. However, the angle of your torso during this exercise tends to put more stress on your upper back and less on your lower back. This is a good alternative for anyone who wants to do bent-over rows but prefers a more lower-back-friendly workout.
Learn how to do the Yates row here.
12. Face Pulls
Postural exercises don’t come much better than cable face pulls. Working the muscles across and between your shoulder blades, as well as your posterior deltoids, face pulls are also an effective way to work your teres major and minor. Get the most from this exercise by using a light to moderate weight, keeping your upper arms parallel to the floor, and really pulling your shoulders back and together.
Get even more from this exercise with our in-depth guide.
It’s all but impossible to isolate your teres major and teres minor. They work alongside your lats and are involved in almost every back and posterior deltoid exercise. In fact, most people only become aware of these muscles when they are tight or develop trigger points and become painful.
That said, it’s often interesting to learn more about the 600+ muscles that make up your body. And while it’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever compliment you on your teres major and teres minor development, at least you’ll know where your “mini-lats” are, what they do, and what exercises you can do to develop them.